November 14, 2012
Montreal mayor quits amid Quebec corruption scandal
Montreal's mayor has resigned in the midst of a corruption scandal.
Gerald Tremblay has become the most prominent political casualty in the series of controversies that have rocked the province.
He made the announcement Nov. 5 at city hall.
Tremblay held on to office just long enough to delay an election to replace him.
By avoiding the public eye the previous week and leaving now, less than 365 days before the next scheduled election, Tremblay can now be replaced with an interim mayor chosen by city council — which is controlled by his party.
He insists he was unaware of corruption in his administration and only learned about it after the fact.
He said he feels betrayed by the people, who abused his trust but, given the current climate, he said the best thing for the city is for him to step aside.
The announcement comes after years of scandal that, over time, inched uncomfortably close to the mayor.
His onetime closest associates have either been slapped with criminal charges or been accused of corruption at an ongoing inquiry.
The latest, sharpest blow came last week: a witness at the inquiry said Tremblay was not only aware of illegal financing within his political party, but was indifferent to it.
This was after the mayor had spent more than three years telling Montrealers that he’d been unaware of any corruption within his party or administration.
In making his resignation announcement, Tremblay denied that the 2004 meeting ever took place.
But, the allegation from his former party worker was incendiary enough to torch his administration.
The latest allegations prompted demands for Tremblay’s resignation. They even forced his administration to scrap a budget that had included property-tax hikes, following a backlash.
Even the provincial government weighed in, expressing its anger that an administration whose legitimacy had been so tarnished would try asking taxpayers for more money.
Amid the outcry, Tremblay decided to take a short break last week - the timing of which was important.
If Tremblay had quit before Nov. 3, one year ahead of the 2013 municipal election, it would have triggered an early mayoral vote. A resignation less than one year before an election, under Quebec law, means city council can pick a replacement. Tremblay’s party controls council.
Tremblay turned 70 in September.
A lawyer by trade, he was called to the Quebec Bar in 1970. He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
A former Quebec provincial politician, Tremblay was elected to the provincial legislature as a Liberal in 1989 and he served as industry minister until 1994.
His entry into municipal politics was propelled a decade ago by the last Parti Quebecois government’s plan to merge the island of Montreal into one megacity.
The plan was, ironically, led by his current adversary at city hall, Louise Harel, who was the provincial municipal-affairs minister.
Tremblay harnessed the angst and anger over the plan, getting overwhelming support from suburban and anglophone voters and sweeping to power in 2001.
He was re-elected in 2005 and again in 2009 for his third term as mayor. Less than 40 per cent of Montrealers bothered to vote last time. Allegations had already begun surfacing about irregularities in the awarding of public contracts and illegal political financing.
Tremblay survived the vote, partly because the main opposition party led by Harel dealt with controversies of its own.
He was contrite following his win.
“I want Montrealers to know that I know the mandate they’ve given me comes with great responsibility,” Tremblay said following his narrow 2009 victory.
“I’m aware that the confidence of Montrealers has been put to the test.”
The Canadian Press
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